I love books. I love reading them, writing them, and being around them. That’s why I also love bookstores.
Sadly, more and more independent bookstores are closing up shop because they cannot compete against Amazon and the like. In fact, I just got news that my bookstore’s former sister store, Pooh’s Corner, is closing after a 38-year run. Loyal customers remark that when a bookstore closes, it feels like a funeral. It’s true.
But while America is giving eulogies for purveyors of the printed word, the French are reveling in a bookstore paradise. Why the difference? Price-fixing.
According to an article in the New York Times, the French government stepped in and laid down some laws specific to the sale of French language books. Bookstores, even online giants like Amazon, are not allowed to discount French language books lower than 5% below retail. Amazon did win the right to provide free shipping in order to be competitive, but that is nothing when compared to the deals offered in America that make even publishers wince at the lack of profit margin.
The balance between discounting and paying the bills is a tricky one to master. The topic has often come up among the employees of my bookstore, Baker Book House, as to whether we are hurting ourselves by offering deep discounts on specific titles. Often, we discount anyway because we know that while American customers may get warm fuzzies by supporting local bookstores, those warm fuzzies only last so long before they are tempted by the rumored convenience of online retailers. And so we try to compete, not only in the personal touch and knowledge by which good indie bookstores are known, but in price as well.
But what if that isn’t enough? I’ve seen too many good bookstores close to think that it is impossible for it to happen to mine. Is there a way to retroactively adopt some French bookstore reform on a National level? And what would people say if that happened?
If you had to pay near full-price for all of your books, would you continue to buy them? And would you buy them from local bookstores or would you order them online?
I’d love to hear some responses.